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Dilemmas of regime change

Dilemmas of regime change
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First Published: Thu, Mar 24 2011. 09 52 PM IST
Updated: Thu, Mar 24 2011. 09 52 PM IST
Much like a school fistfight, it is easy to believe that wars would disappear if the state-system could be cleansed of bad boys. The 20th century has seen a long list of such characters: From Adolf Hitler to Japanese leaders during World War II to Saddam Hussein close to the end of the millennium. In some cases, removing troublesome leaders has worked; in many other instances, it has not. Today, Colonel Moammar Gadhafi is a problem child who is in danger of meeting a similar fate.
At the moment, the Western countries involved in Libyan operations deny that the country is a target for “regime change”. This, given the limited success of their military operations, may change soon. Otherwise, the considerable military effort of recent days will go waste. At the same time, a ground assault is an unappealing prospect: If Gadhafi were to arm his supporters (and there are a large number of them) a swift regime change operation could easily turn into a long-drawn counterinsurgency campaign. The Afghan and Iraqi experiences show this is a thankless task.
From these facts, it is only a matter of joining the dots to conclude that regime change is a futile exercise—one that is costly to the country/countries that carry it out and also wounds the pride of the country subjected to it. It is a facile conclusion that confuses the desirability of the end goal with the difficulties in achieving it.
The fact is there is a case for regime change, however uneasy it may be. The other explanation favoured for long—one that argues the problems of world order exist at the level of relations between countries and not the colour of domestic regime—has been found wanting in recent years. The detail of the problem varies from country to country but a pattern can be discerned: A colonial power departs. This is followed by a period of leadership by a nationalist party. Failure and frustration in the development process and inability to widen political participation lead to authoritarian politics. Dictators then seek enemies abroad and use wars as a pretext to bolster their legitimacy or frustrated citizens, look for “adventures” in other countries against imagined enemies.
This is not a problem for the West alone. India has two countries with similar problems in its neighbourhood: Myanmar and Pakistan. For India, the absence of democracy in Myanmar has been benign. In Pakistan, democracy has not led to improved ties. India’s confusion over regime change in Libya has much to do with its divergent experiences with democracy and dictatorship in South Asia.
How can regime change be made more effective? Tell us at views@livemint.com
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First Published: Thu, Mar 24 2011. 09 52 PM IST